If your radio has been tuned to Christian, country or pop music in the last decade, then you’ve probably heard the song “I Can Only Imagine.” Originally released by the Christian rock band MercyMe in 1999, the song broke all charts for a Christian release. “I Can Only Imagine” has inspired the masses with over 2.5 million copies sold. The song’s popularity propelled it to platinum status times three, making it the only Christian song to reach that level.

If you’ve loved the song over the years, you’ll love the film that relates the story behind it. If you’ve never heard the song, you’ll still be entertained and moved by this heartfelt story.

It’s not easy for a film to make an entire audience cry without edging into the danger zone of being overly sentimental and emotionally manipulating. Dennis Quaid turns in one of the strongest, dynamic performances of his career. “I Can Only Imagine” hits just the right tone to make you sympathize with the plight of young Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley with Brody Rose as young Bart).

After being abandoned by his mother, Bart’s left in a loveless household with his abusive father Arthur Millard (Dennis Quaid). Bart withstands years of physical abuse, but it’s the emotional and psychological abuse that hurts more.

The strongest message Arthur Millard communicates to his son is that he’s worthless and that his dreams will never materialize.

After Bart suffers an injury, and he can’t play football, he stumbles into the glee club at his high school. It’s only a matter of time before the teacher (Priscilla C. Shirer) casts him as the lead in the school musical.

Bart comes to realize that music runs in his veins, that all his life, he’s used music to find a sense of peace in the turmoil of abuse.

As soon as he can after graduation, Bart leaves to pursue music. It’s not long before he meets a group of like-minded musicians and forms the band MercyMe.

After a series of setbacks, help comes from Brickell (Trace Adkins), a music manager with connections in Nashville. He determines that Bart’s music has an uneven quality; some performances seem lackluster, but others seem inspired.

Unexpectedly, Bart discovers that his hard father has turned his life around. What transpires next will be the stuff of miracles for his father, for Bart and his music, and for the multitudes. And it’s all in a song.

Rated PG for thematic elements including some violence.

Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and the Glen Rose Reporter.